On-street questioning raises ire of rights group

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On-street questioning raises ire of rights group

The National Police Agency announced yesterday they plan to revive on-street questioning amid growing public safety concerns sparked by a recent series of violent crimes in the country.

Police officers can stop and request identification if they see a person exhibiting suspicious behavior or matching the profile of a wanted suspect.

Authorities halted the on-street questioning in 2010 when the National Human Rights Commission said the patrolling measure infringed upon individual and privacy rights. Before 2010, police were allowed to stop suspicious people on the street.

Under the revived measure, policemen on patrol can stop pedestrians and ask them to accompany them to a police station for up to six hours of interrogation. But pedestrians would have the right to decline to go to the station.

The latest move by the law enforcement agency came after a string of violent crimes has shaken the country in recent days, with the latest occurring in Naju, South Jeolla, in which a 23-year-old suspect named Koh Jong-seok abducted and raped a sleeping 7-year-old girl in the early hours of Thursday morning.

A stabbing spree by a recently fired, disgruntled 30-year-old man that involved two of his former colleagues and two other strangers on a sidewalk in Yeouido, western Seoul, also further heightened concern over public order and prompted people to question law enforcement officers’ readiness against such crimes.

The state-run human rights watchdog that warned of possible human rights infringements said it will closely watch how the police will implement the revived measure.

“We have been consistent in advising the police agency that the random questioning could potentially violate individuals’ rights,” An Seok-mo, director of the policy and education bureau at the human rights commission told the Korea JoongAng Daily yesterday.

“We have started looking for alternatives that safeguard individual rights as well as keeping a close eye on the situation.”

The major opposition Democratic United Party made clear its opposition to the measure yesterday, claiming there are other reasons behind the reform.

“Views are prevalent that the latest measure aims to stifle critical views against the incumbent government by restarting the random questioning,” said Representative Jung Sung-ho, the DUP’s spokesman.

By Kang Jin-kyu [jkkang2@joongang.co.kr]
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